Monday's NFL: Colts get QB Matt Ryan in trade with Falcons

Michael Marot
Associated Press

Indianapolis — The Indianapolis Colts may have found another short-term answer at quarterback by trading for Matt Ryan.

How much longer the soon-to-be 37-year-old, four-time Pro Bowler sticks around isn’t clear.

On Monday, Indy acquired the 2016 league MVP from Atlanta for a third-round pick in this year’s draft (No. 82 overall,) a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on condtion of anonymity because the trade had not been announced.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes the ball under pressure from Lions defensive end Nick Williams (97) during the second half.

The Falcons wasted no time finding Ryan’s replacement — announcing they’d signed free agent Marcus Mariota to a two-year contract.

For Indy, the deal completes a two-week search for a successor to Carson Wentz, who was traded to the Washington Commanders after just one season with the Colts. For Colts general manager Chris Ballard, it's also the latest attempt to plug a hole created by Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement at age 29 just before the start of the 2018 season.

Ryan will become the sixth quarterback to start in Week 1 for the Colts in six years, adding his name to a list that already is comprised of Scott Tolzien, Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers and Wentz. He joins a franchise whose vice chairman Bill Polian once said he considered Ryan the most similar player in the league to Peyton Manning.

“You’ve got to be right (at quarterback) and even if you’re not right, you’ve got to keep firing away until you get it right," Ballard said during the NFL's annual scouting combine. "We’ve got to get it right.”

The deal also makes something else clear: The Falcons are entering rebuild mode.

More: Rogers: Lions' conservative free-agency approach frustrating, but best for long-term build

Shortly after the Falcons made a highly publicized but failed bid to acquire Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson last week, it became clear Ryan did not want to return to a team where he had played his entire NFL career and then openly tried to replace him.

Watson supposedly narrowed his potential choices for a trade to New Orleans and Atlanta -- with speculation the Falcons were the favorite since Watson is a Georgia native. But he changed his mind and accepted a $230 million, fully guaranteed deal with the Cleveland Browns who sent three first-round picks to the Texans in the deal.

Ryan is undoubtedly the greatest quarterback in Falcons history, the No. 3 overall pick in 2008 who stepped in to replace Michael Vick. He steadied a franchise rocked by coach Bobby Petrino's departure after 13 games and Vick's imprisonment for running a dogfighting ring.

With Ryan running the offense, the Falcons rebounded from a 4-12 mark in 2007 to make the playoffs in 2008 — the first of five consecutive winning seasons and three postseason trips. Until Ryan's arrival, Atlanta had never even managed back-to-back winning seasons since joining the NFL as an expansion team in 1966.

After several down years for the team, Ryan turned in his greatest season in 2016, throwing for a career-best 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns. Atlanta appeared headed for its first Super Bowl crown when it took a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots by late in the third quarter only to see Tom Brady engineer the greatest comeback in title game history for a 34-28 overtime victory.

What the Colts are getting in Ryan is a model of consistency — something they’ve lacked following the retirements of Luck and Rivers and the departures of Tolzien, Brissett and Wentz. Ryan has two seasons left on his current contract and the Colts are well-positioned to absorb the salary cap hits each season.

Ryan posted 10 straight seasons with more than 4,000 passing yards until just missing the mark last year with 3,968. He’s thrown for at least 20 touchdowns every year of his career, totaling 367 in his career with 170 interceptions. And he has only missed three starts in his 14-year career.

His 59,735 career passing yards are No. 8 in NFL history, and he will likely pass Dan Marino (61,361) for the No. 7 spot on the list next season.

More: Deshaun Watson changes mind, joining Browns

Even though the Falcons made one more playoff appearance with Ryan, in 2017, they never seemed to recover from the stunning collapse on the NFL’s biggest stage. Atlanta has endured four straight losing seasons, including a 7-10 mark last year, and is clearly in rebuilding mode.

Mariota joins the little-used Feleipe Franks as the only quarterbacks on Atlanta’s roster. Tennessee took Mariota with the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2015, but the 28-year-old played sparingly over the past two seasons as a backup to Derek Carr with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Mariota lost his starting job with the Titans after going 29-32 record in five seasons. He’ll apparently get a chance to resurrect his career with the Flacons, who are also likely to pursue a long-term solution at quarterback in the draft even though this is not considered a strong quarterback class.

The city also just watched the World Series champion Braves cut ties with first baseman Freddie Freeman, Major League Baseball’s 2020 MVP, after a 12-year stint. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Winston agrees to return to Saints on 2-year deal

Free agent quarterback Jameis Winston has agreed to return to the New Orleans Saints, a person familiar with the situation said Monday.

Winston, who started seven games for New Orleans in 2021 before a season-ending knee injury, has agreed to a two-year contract, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the move has not been announced.

NFL Network first reported Winston's deal, which is reportedly worth about $28 million.

The Saints went 5-2 in the games Winston started in 2021, although he played just two series in his seventh game before tearing knee ligaments when he was brought down by Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White during scramble.

While the 28-year-old Winston's rehabilitation from reconstructive surgery appears to be on schedule for him to play next season, his return to New Orleans had been uncertain while the Saints explored options at the all-important position.

New Orleans was among the leading suiters for Deshaun Watson before he approved a trade from Houston to Cleveland. The Browns' Baker Mayfield and San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo also could wind up with new teams via trades.

The 28-year-old Winston did not post particularly high passing numbers in his first season starting for the Saints as the successor to franchise all-time passer Drew Brees.

Winston completed 59% of his passes for 1,170 yards. But his 14 touchdown passes and just three interception represented a considerable improvement in his ability to minimize risk compared to his final season with Tampa Bay in 2019, when he was intercepted an NFL-high 30 times.

Winston also did not have a chance to throw to Saints top receiver Michael Thomas, who missed all of last season because of a setback related to offseason ankle surgery. Thomas is expected to return healthy in 2022.

The Buccaneers chose not to bring back Winston, whom they drafted first overall out of Florida State in 2015, when they had an opportunity to sign former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the spring of 2020.

Winston was a mercurial performer through his first five NFL seasons with Tampa Bay.

While he was prone to throwing interceptions in 2019, he also led the NFL with 5,109 yards passing to go with 33 touchdown passes.

In his career, Winston has completed 61.2% of his passes for 20,982 yards and 135 TDs vs. 91 interceptions. But while Winston’s accuracy and decision-making were questionable at times, his ability to drive throws downfield for big plays was never in doubt.

Last season he threw for a 72-yard touchdown during a victory in Washington and had a 55-yard TD pass against Green Bay in a season-opening triumph.

Extra points

... The Baltimore Ravens agreed to a three-year deal Monday with fullback Patrick Ricard.

... Quarterback Matt Barkley is returning to the Buffalo Bills for a second stint after signing a one-year contract on Monday.

... Offensive tackle Trent Brown has agreed to a two-year deal to return to the New England Patriots.